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Matts (1087)

Matts
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I work for MessageLabs [messagelabs.com] in Toronto, ON, Canada. I write spam filters, MTA software, high performance network software, string matching algorithms, and other cool stuff mostly in Perl and C.

Journal of Matts (1087)

Thursday December 20, 2001
10:22 AM

Year in Review

[ #1738 ]

I've never done this before, but I think it's probably a really good thing to do for my mental health to review my year, and see what I've achieved, and what I've failed at, and generally figure out where I've been at this year... So excuse my meanderings, while I figure things out. This may be interesting for some as it covers the half of the year before I started this journal too.

January

I started the year all continuing the work I was doing for O'Reilly, converting WebBoard from a butt-ugly VB app to mod_perl. By January we had Dave Rolsky on the team, who did a lot to lift me from my status of apathy for the project (and also cleaned up the coding quite a bit). I was very gung-ho about Take23 then - it was all shiny and new, and we had a lot of submissions and other people working on the project. Funny how these things fade if you don't keep feeding them. We saw the first ever AxKit job request on Dice. TPC/OSCON proposals came and went, and I went insane with about 10 proposals. Also at that time I was (on the sly) talking to a business development guy from the London Stock Exchange about how we could build AxKit.com into a "real" company, and he was helping me put together a business proposal/plan.

Articles/Events/Modules: "Adventures with OpenOffice and XML" on xml.com, no conferences (I promised my wife!), No new modules, but AxKit 1.2 was released.

February

I must have started looking at Ruby in January, as in Feb I seemed to be posting to ruby-talk asking about XML stuff, and if people thought something like AxKit would go down well in the Ruby community.

But the biggy is that in February the bomb dropped. Dave Rolsky and I received an email sent to the beta testers list for WebBoard-Unix (the perl port) that the project was being put on hold. The email was of course not to us, the developers, but to the beta testers. Needless to say this was a rather uncomfortable email for me to get after a full day at work (Me in UK timezone, O'Reilly in PST)... After some frustrated phone calls (it's a long story, I'll spare the details) we found out that an internal memo had already gone around in O'Reilly that the Software Division was being closed down as it was misaligned with their other efforts (which is true - they were a profitable Win32 software company, while the rest of the company promoted free software)... Dave and I were just two of the casualties of that closure (being contractors).

I was full of optimism then - the AxKit.com work I had been doing couldn't have been timed better, and the dot-com crash was just something we talked about that might happen, down the pub. I attended XML DevCon in London that month with my wife Heather in tow, and hoped for big things to start happening...

Something really nice happened to me though - I got nominated (not sure how) to be up for the ActiveState Programmer's Choice Award (to be awarded at TPC). That was a great feeling, even though I didn't win (and I told people they should vote for Rocco Caputo, not me!).

Events: XML DevCon London
Modules: An XSP whizz month, freed of the shackles of O'Reilly I wrote AxKit-XSP-ESQL, AxKit-XSP-Exception, AxKit-XSP-Param, and Kip Hampton contributed AxKit-XSP-Util. Oh, and AxKit 1.3 got released.

March

The month of the dot-com crash. This is really when the dot-com shit hit the fan. Markets started crashing in March (if memory serves me correct), and I started along the road to convincing myself that as a small company with an XML BASED PRODUCT, I would be able to weather this storm. Hahahahaha...

In March we got snow. Lots of snow.

I had my first and last big bust up with Dave Winer, and I promise NEVER TO EMAIL HIM AGAIN. This was over namespaces in RSS 1.0 - I asked him how I could extend RSS 0.93 to add support for the Dublin Core, and he responded that HE WAS NOT WRONG. Strange chap. Tim O'Reilly posted the announcement on ORA.com about the closure of the s/w group, which was good to finally have closure. I realised that the First Tuesday events I'd been going to were pretty useless for introverts like myself. Steffano Mazzochi asked me if I wanted to put AxKit into the Apache group alongside Cocoon. I turned him down because at the time it was a business interest.

I got 6 talks accepted to the OSCon/TPC... So that was work cut out for me :-)

April

I spent most of april between developing AxKit stuff and moping about the lack of work. The offers of contracts had officially dried up (I was turning them down before that - d'oh!). I was invited to speak at XML DevCon in New York, and ApacheCon in San Jose, both in the same week (immediately after each other). ApacheCon was depressing - it was a *very* quiet conference compared to the previous ApacheCon - very poorly attended (about 1 speaker to every 3 attendees) and most people were talking about being laid off... XML DevCon was fun, but I had been allocated a 6 hour slot to do my talk in, and I only had 3 hours of material. Nightmare! I wasn't well prepared really. However the conference organisers gave me a fabulous room - basically a conference suite with kitchen, bathroom, changing room, dining room, conference table, fax machine, etc etc. And on the 46th floor no less. That was pretty amazing. But I didn't really have time to enjoy it - I think the conference organisers felt bad for making me fly from the UK to San Jose to NY and home again in the space of about 6 days.

My major module release for April was XML::LibXSLT, an interface to the gnome libxslt library. I discovered it was awesomely fast, and learned a bit more XS than what I discovered in writing HTTP::GHTTP (I feel like an old-hand at it now).

In April we also found out that Heather had been accepted to Oxford Uni for her PGCE (teacher training). So we started looking at houses down there (though I didn't want to move, having only been in Scotland for less than 2 years).

I started looking for (and interviewing at) permanent jobs. This would be the first time in my life I'd been turned down for a position.

May

The work situation continued to look bleak. My friend from the Stock Exchange lost hope in me, though he really did have the patience of job. I put most of my efforts in May into writing my talks for the open source conference, and to that end I invented AxPoint, which allowed me to write really nice looking presentations in XML delivered via AxKit as PDF files. Adobe Acrobat allows for things like transitions and things, which I'd missed with my boring text based presentations. Plus it automatically gave me anti-aliased fonts, which I'd missed on Linux for so long.

I attended the most depressing conference in my entire life in Stockholm in mid May. It was an "Open Source" conference, which was in retrospect not going to be a good thing given the number of lay offs in the industry. Rasmus Lerdorf was there talking about PHP, so we got chatting a bit. He had 14 people attend his talk. I had 4.

In May I found a promising job advertised on JobServe with all the right skills for me - Perl, XML, Web stuff, C, Email APIs, etc. So I applied, and it turned out that while the company was in Gloucester (close-ish to Oxford), the development team manager lived in Edinburgh, and he invited me over for an interview. At the end of May I interviewed there, and we basically chatted about all sorts of different things for about 3 hours maybe more. If time was anything to go by, I knew I had the job... I immediately got invited down for my first interview (this is turned around because the 3 hour interview would normally be the second interview, but I'd already had that, so it was just a formality to meet the CTO and the rest of the team).

June

In June I finally got a little bit of work - writing a very small content management-like system for Red Hat, for their News/Announcements system. It was only 4 weeks work, but it would help me get by. The rest of the month was spent looking for houses on the web, writing conference presentations, and working on the Red Hat stuff.

July

OSCon Month!!!

I got asked to join Star Internet/MessageLabs, and accepted. I started on the 10th July, working for 1 week down in Gloucester, before coming back up to Scotland, working from home for a bit, then doing the conference. Whew!

The weekend before I started work properly, we had to find a house. We wanted to live somewhere in between Gloucester and Oxford so that the commute would be fair for both Heather and I. Unfortunately, the property prices closer to Oxford forced us further and further towards Gloucester, until we found a reasonable place right in Gloucester itself. The problem was we had to find a place that had room for the dogs, the cats, the bird, and all our crap. The dogs is the hard part, because we can't just live in some flat in the city - we have to have a garden and be reasonably near a park or somewhere to walk the dogs. And that gets expensive (everyone wants to live near a park, it seems!). Eventually we found a house that matched all our criteria bar one: it was not in "move-in" state. In fact, it was a nightmare - wallpaper peeling off the walls, smoke and cigarrette stains everywhere, and just generally unclean. But we bought it anyway, and vowed to fix it up using our equity.

So, the week working in Gloucester came and went. Back home we weren't busy packing, as we decided to pay the movers to do all the packing (yes, I'd do that again *in a second*). I finished getting ready for the Perl Conference, and off we went.

San Diego was fabulous. Not much I can really add to my other journal entries. I met some of the great people I'd been speaking with virtually for ages (Kip, Robin, Antoine, and others), which was nice. And after the conference my wife and I stayed on for a bit of a holiday, which was really really nice (we hadn't really holidayed like that in a place we could just do nothing since we got married (i.e. never)).

Back at work I was investigating .NET. I wasn't overly impressed, though it's an improvement on the current Windows cruft.

August

After the conf it was back down to Gloucester to stay in a grotty B&B until we moved. Thank god it was only 2 weeks, as the B&B was awful. Moving was mostly uneventful - movers came, packed everything, and left. We finished up, and set off the next morning. A hot day, travelling 400 miles with 6 pets in two cars. It was a bad journey but we arrived in the end. It's funny moving into a crappy house after you've moved out of basically a perfect house. When you move into the perfect house you move in and set about putting your things into place. When you move into a crappy house you get there and kind of go: Hmm, this is it, huh? And you don't want to put your stuff *anywhere*.

August 13th my servers shut down. Bye bye axkit.org, take23.org and sergeant.org. Little would I know how long it would take to get them back.

September, October, November

These three months were a blur. My wife and I spent them like this:

    Get up
    Go to work
    Come home
    Fix up house until 10pm
    Go to sleep

Sometimes I'd even come home at lunchtime to work on the house.

Oh, and interspersed throughout that was:

    Fight with NetSol/Demon to get my domain names back
    Fight with BT to get a DSL line sorted out

*sigh*

December

This last month I've finally put my feet up a bit. We exhausted ourselves with the house, but it's (mostly) done now (we ran out of money to do the bathroom, in the end). I culminated some work on XML by releasing XML::SAX to deafening silence from all comers. Well, I think it's cool at least. Now I've started developing some AxKit-like functionality using POE and SAX, which should be kinda cool. Again, at least *I* think so :-)

And now I have finished this tome, I must get back to work.

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